Jesus does not call us to look for ways to suffer but to know that we will suffer for him. Disciples have an endurance mindset because of the value of knowing and being known of Jesus. John’s esteem for those who have been slaughtered and those who have been martyred reminds us that our faith is valuable.
Some of the roles John sets forth in Revelation lack appeal for modern readers, just as they would have for John’s live audience. As creatures, humans tend to avoid pain, not embrace roles that might lead to suffering. Let alone death. John exhibits pastoral concern in Revelation, compelling him to esteem those taking up the role of being slaughtered for Christ. The general hue of Revelation places believers in the cross-hairs of spiritual war, and in Rev 6:9, 18:24, and 20:4 John lauds those who have embraced the role of suffering for their faith even to the point of death.
The Slaughtered Ones Heard in Heaven
Revelation can be seen as a protracted answer to the saints’s question John hears when the sixth seal is broken, “Lord, the one who is holy and true, how long until you judge those who live on the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev 6:10, CSB). John notes that the ones crying out to God for justice are those who had been slaughtered because of God’s word and their testimony of Christ (Rev 6:9). The role of being slaughtered or martyred in Rev 6:9 and in Rev 18:24 expresses the highest degree of faithfulness to Christ. Beale states it clearly: “Since the symbol of identity for all Christians is the slain Lamb, they all also can be referred to by the same metaphor.”
Two ideas in Rev 6:9 underscore the saints’ devotion to God as they cry out for justice. First, John’s grammatical choice of “those who had been slaughtered” portrays the violent means of the martyrs’ deaths as yet vivid and in full color. Even if their deaths were decades before, the effects and violent frame of those deaths cast a shadow extending to the very moment when they cry out for God to avenge their blood. The slaughter they endured was thus an antecedent action that placed the saints in the resulting state implied by the slaughtering event. To be slaughtered is to die violently with scars and visible effects that forever mark a person as having been slaughtered.
Further, the nearness and proximity of the violent death of the martyrs anticipates John’s description of why the saints were slaughtered. At the conclusion of Rev 6:9, John notes that the saints had been martyred because of their continuous, consistent testimony of Christ.